Comment Paul Devoy: ‘I’ve seen first-hand what happens when people lack opportunities’

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As Investors in People welcomes a new chair, its chief exec reflects on productivity, mental health and robots in the workplace.

Investors in People (IIP) – the standard setter for people management, which works with businesses such as McDonald’s, Allianz Insurance and Brompton Bikes – will soon welcome a new chair. Ian Deninson, group HR and communications director at Amey, will replace Valerie Todd, who is stepping down after eight years. This has given Paul Devoy, the organisation’s chief executive, time to reflect on IPP’s recent accomplishments and what lies ahead.

What attracted you to IIP?

My background is in HR and OD. I spent the first 17 years of my career in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Prison Service. I saw first-hand what happens when people lack opportunities.

IIP’s purpose is to help organisations succeed by realising their people’s potential. By 2022, we want to create a community of 100,000 organisations that believe investing in people is the right – and the smart – thing to do.

What were the most important developments for IIP during Valerie’s tenure?

Valerie led a major transformation of the business, including: moving the business from a government-owned model, reliant on government funding, to a self-financed model more aligned to IIP’s vision, modernising the IIP framework and developing digital tools to support employers in improving business performance.

What will be the most pressing issues Ian will face going forward?

Government freezes on marketing spend have constrained IIP’s marketing activities since 2010. Since becoming a community-interest company, IIP has expanded its product portfolio and digitalised many offerings. A key challenge going forward is raising awareness of how IIP can help create more happy, healthy and productive workplaces. But this is also an opportunity. As the Taylor review highlights, ‘good work’ is fundamental to business success. Investing in people has never been more relevant.

I am delighted that Ian will be joining our board as chair. He is a strong advocate of IIP, and his significant expertise in the HR field and distinguished track record of business transformation will be major assets to the organisation.

What role does HR play in improving the UK’s productivity?

If you look at the factors driving productivity, you can see a clear link with HR. For decades we have lagged behind our competitor nations in effectiveness of our leaders. Chartered Management Institute research has found that we have more than two million accidental managers in the UK. If we can support our managers to create high-performing workplaces, it will have a transformational impact on our economy. To do this we need to be much better at making the case for investing in our leaders and convincing them to invest in their people. Failing to do so is not just making our organisations less productive, it’s also having a detrimental impact on employees’ wellbeing.

We need to improve people management practices across the board. Culture and values have to be aligned with an organisation’s vision and purpose for staff to engage with them. The way jobs are designed and people are incentivised must work as a cohesive ecosystem.

What are the biggest issues facing employers today?

I wrote an article for Mental Health Awareness Week and the knock-on impact of wellbeing in the workplace left me shocked. The Thriving at Work report puts the cost of poor mental health to our economy at as much as £99bn, while IIP’s recent poll on mental health revealed that just 36 per cent of workers believe their workplace supports mental wellbeing. This is a key issue employers need to address.

The use of technology is another interesting topic facing employers, with many employees concerned about what effect automation might have on their future. But the issue we have now runs counter to these gloomy predictions. Some sectors are not deploying the technology available to its best effect. Technology has automated many dangerous tasks and has improved our quality of lives in many ways, including the development of new medical treatments. Our challenge is to make the advancements in technology a force for good.

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